Phillip Gross on the Isles of Scilly

Philip Gross is a poet and novelist, writing for both adults and young people. He won a Gregory Award in 1981 and first prize in the National Poetry Competition the following year. His latest adult collection, The Wasting Game (Bloodaxe) was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize. He tutors for the Arvon Foundation and the Open College of the Arts, and now lectures on the creative writing programme at Bath Spa University College. He has performed at venues all over England, sometimes with the jazz-based group Vanilla Allsorts, for whom he wrote the sequence A Game Of Henge - published with paintings by John Eaves and F.J. Kennedy and poems about Avebury as A Cast Of Stones (Digging Deeper, June 1996). He enjoys collaboration and has worked with other poets and dramatists, with photographers, sculptors and choreographers.


As part of the "Weather Permitting" Millennium arts project to celebrate the islands (their history, natural history and everyday life), the Outlook Agency for Artists in Education brought in a poet to undertake poetry readings and workshops.


The residency included three whole days of work in three schools, Isles of Scilly Secondary (St Mary's), Cam Gwaval Primary and Tresco School. At the last, children from the islands of Bryher and St Martins took part for the day; only the six children from the other inhabited island, St Agnes, were unable to get there because of high winds and heavy seas. (The Isles of Scilly Council kindly provided a small boat to get me to Tresco, in challenging conditions!)

This means that, apart from the St Agnes six, I met the entire population of the islands under the ages of 16, at least in school assemblies where I introduced myself, the placement and the purpose of the work. In the secondary school I then worked intensively with the whole of Year 8, who prepared a poem-poster and an assembly to present their work to the whole school. In the primary I worked with all but the youngest infants, then took a cross-age workshop group of jumors, who shared the work done with the whole school at the end of the day, and with the help of staff present will relay the exercises and attitude of the workshop to their classmates in the weeks to come.

The time not spent in schools was spent taking seriously the Poetry Places brief to produce my own writing directly related to the visit: visiting islands, talking to boatmen, researching local history...

The piece Tide Rock', was written by me, alongside the Tresco, Bryher and St Martins children, starting with several lines from their group work; the point was not to appropriate their work but to give an example of 'working it up', following an idea as it develops and changes.

The placement was especially appreciated by teachers in the schools, who for obvious practical and financial reasons find it harder to bring writers into their schools. It was noticed; all the children went home talking about poetry, and in a community where everybody knows everybody on their island, that means everybody knew. I can't think of a better way to end my involvement with Poetry Places. Thanks to the Poetry Society and to Roger Butts from 'Outlook', for making it possible.



scabby with barnacles

breaking surface in our way


shaggy sea-tramp

bearded lady

in a lacy veil of spray


won't let you pass

unless you face her

sidle by with due respect


granite grandma

elder of boulders

bride of sailors robbed and wrecked


spinner of whirlpools

when she's angry

bearing grudges when she's calm


a face in the rock

a twist in the tide

she wants to hold you

closer hold you

closer she says Where's the harm?

Philip Gross, in collaboration with children of Tresco, Bryher and St Martin's schools, 23.5.2000.


spray thrower

seaweed raker

shell hurrier

bridge breaker


foam bringer

fish holder

limpet singer

shoal folder


seal player

cliff kisser

whale tow-er

wave whisker


beach flooder

boat smashed

land eater

sand masher


fidal waver

swell dragger

shore shaker

octopus snagger


wave warrior

life taker

ship rocker

sick maker


huge mirror

sun catcher

cloud feeder

seaweed flasher


cave corroder

stone tumbler

boulder slusher

grey grumbler


island linker

sand measurer

wreck sinker

bullion treasurer  

Carn Gwaval school, St. Mary's - mixed age poetry group,  with Philip Gross. 24.5.2000





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